I was reading through this post by MindBodyGreen about the biggest health trends in food and I gave a collective wistful sigh when I read trend # 4, “Label Free is the Way to Be”. I thought, “if only”. I think it represents a a beautiful aspirational way to live in all things, not just food related. Doesn’t it make sense when you are living outside of a hashtag that your day to day would not be confined to limiting labels.
As a brand, I know it can be problematic to live label free. Labels make marketing easy. If a brand is a promise to your customer, a label reduces that message into one tidy and compact little morsel.
We’ve certainly had some people experience some confusion when it comes to our brand depending on how they first come to us. We started as a line that was created specifically for my mother’s dermatology office. If you asked us in 2008 what we were, we’d say, “Easy, we are a clinical line”. In 2011, after completing my MBA at Queens (I’m a very proud alum!), I felt we could use a re-focusing if not exactly a rebrand. We’d been selling our Every Morning Sun Whip SPF 25 as a cosmetic (i.e. made no SPF claims) to our patients exclusively and their feedback was startling. They loved the product. We were also in the process of formulating our Simply Zinc Sun Whip SPF 30. We wanted a product that would be a Natural Health Product, which would mean having a high concentration of zinc oxide in order to provide sufficient UV protection. We were also deeply committed to including ingredients that were controversy free and that meant looking at the medical community but also the emerging green beauty world.
With these two products in hand, I could see that we had built up an expertise in sunscreen that was rare in the industry. We were bringing together worlds that didn’t necessarily speak to each other. It was with this commitment to making the best sunscreens in the world that we became “The Sunscreen Company TM”.
When I mention confusion though, our products do straddle both the clinical and green world. Bloggers especially love our Simply Zin Sun Whip SPF 30 for its ingredient list and aesthetic finish. Physicians love our Every Morning Sun Whip SPF 25 because it offers an excellent zinc oxide alternative to conventional sunscreens. Then we have our label-free customers, who just want a truly safe and effective sunscreen and find us to be a credible and trust worthy solution.
Our cosmetics straddle the line too. We are launching a cleanser this year that will have 8 ingredients total in it, all of them excluding the water will be Ecocert Certified Organic. We have a retinoid ester product that is in limited release while we update its packaging that has 4 ingredients total that uses a synthetic retinoid ester in a whopping 1% active concentration. We’ve always used the guiding principle of finding the best actives in our industry, using them in their most effective and high concentration and then using functional ingredients that provide a benefit to the skin and are controversy free.
I’ve been seeing a shift in our industry though that is troubling. I love the idea of people being proactive about their skincare and finding as much information about products as they can. However, in an Instagram age, there seems to be race for some to the top for ‘purity’. It’s as though we are trying to out compete each other and say ‘are you only against these ingredients? Because I’m against all of these”. The word ‘toxic’ is thrown around quite casually and it seems new insinuations about ingredients spring up on a constant revolving basis. It’s true that new information comes up but I often take a look at the source material for these new allegations and very often the consensus is that the ingredient is overall quite safe to use. Other times, I’ll see that ingredients are blacklisted either by confusing them with another or because they share a similar name to another controversial ingredient.
An example of this- butylene glycol is often confused with butyl glycol, more commonly known as butoxyethanol. Butylene Glycol receives a hazard score of 1 on the Environmental Working Group (EWG). There is a mention about a low risk for irritation but upon further investigation, one study showed some potential for ocular irritation when the ingredient was applied neat to the area. Overall, it’s a fairly inert and safe ingredient. It’s used for functional benefits for a formula, for instance the tetrapeptides we use come pre-dispersed in it as a wetting agent. Butoxyethanol receives a hazard score of 5 on the EWG and is listed by the European Union as likely toxic or harmful. That’s a big difference, made confusing by similar chemical names!
Many most likely question what could the harm be in being over-restrictive in scrutinizing ingredients. What is the issue in being too careful? My concern is that it can put the wrong focus on products overall, especially as it relates to sunscreens. I’ve always argued that sunscreens have different implications in their criteria for being safe and effective when compared to cosmetics. The safety of a cosmetic is not necessarily impacted by a lack of efficacy. For a sunscreens though, they are inextricably linked. It doesn’t matter if all of the non-medicinal ingredients are organic and plant derived if the product also only has 2% zinc oxide.
Frankly, I’ve also seen hints of green becoming the new mean where people’s tone of voices become as toxic as the ingredients they are pillorying. I read an interview from a founder of a beauty line that I really respect but her tone came off as caustic and really negative. I could see people thinking that the lifestyle she was promoting was unattainable.
The concept of label-free living sounds so appealing. I wish we can take a collective breath and ease up- the quest for purity should not descend into puritanism. That unattainable quest for perfection won’t make your skin or your soul more beautiful.
Let me know what you think-